Thanks to Rebecca Littman for passing on this story from PRI, which argues that U.S. statements identifying treatment of gays as a human rights concern have been associated with trumped up anti-gay rhetoric in the country.
Not surprisingly, false rumors have fueled frustrations:
Much of the recent debate here is rooted in misinformation about the Obama policy. Liberia receives more than $200 million a year from the U.S., and the Liberian media have repeatedly reported – incorrectly — that the Obama policy makes American foreign aid contingent on advancing gay rights. One newspaper headline declared: “‘No Gay Law, No Help,’ Obama threatens African Leaders.”
Some interviewed for the story have suggested that the backlash from the policy has actually led to increased threats to the security and dignity of gays in that country. I’d need to see a lot more evidence before I was convinced that the American statements have actually had a negative impact — could well be that there is simply more awareness and reporting of the problem, and a focus on a few visible events. Nonetheless, disheartening to think that this might be a real possibility.
More anti-gay bills in West Africa… Jewel Howard Taylor, former wife of former Liberian president Charles Taylor is using her time as Senator in this war-torn country to advance a bill that would make same-gender sexual relations a felony. If convicted, such a crime would warrant punishment ranging from 10 years in jail to death.
And Nobel prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has remained silent on the issue.
The issue continues to heat up owing to the pressure of the U.S. and the U.K. to consider gay rights as human rights over the past year. According to the AFP,
A few weeks after the United States in December announced it would consider gay rights when handing out aid, the Movement in Defence of Gay and Lesbian Rights in Liberia began to push for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
This was roundly condemned and the leaders of the movement — none of them gay — were mobbed and had to be rescued by police when they tried to campaign at a university campus.
The U.S. gives quite a bit of aid to Liberia. The question is whether we will put our money where are mouths are and actually cut back assistance because of this issue, even as American influence on the continent wanes in the face of massive Chinese investment. Would such a stance fly well with the American electorate? There may be mixed support for gay marriage, but I’m pretty sure that a healthy majority of Americans would recognize death-for-sodomy as a massive human rights violation… and since enthusiasm for foreign aid is not so high to begin with, there would not be much backlash were the U.S. government to tighten the screws. The bigger question would be whether the Liberians would simply tell us to take a walk and highlight their rights to “cultural sovereignty.”